Phoenix to Investigate Airport Employee's Involvement with Flight-Path Changes

An employee with the Phoenix Aviation Department might have known more about the Sky Harbor flight path changes than was originally thought.

In a memo sent to the mayor and City Council members yesterday, City Manager Ed Zuercher wrote that the city was "told that there was no authorization or endorsement of the FAA changes" by the Aviation Department, "and that now appears to be potentially false."

In the past, Aviation Department officials have maintained that only "technical experts" knew "technical details" about the changes, but this new revelation prompted "enough concern to launch an investigation," explains Deborah Ostreicher, spokeswoman for the City Manager's Office.

The question arose during an Aviation Noise and Air Quality Symposium held earlier this month. "An FAA employee made public comments that caused renewed concern regarding the level of Phoenix staff's knowledge about or participation in the FAA's planned flight path changes," the memo states.

See also: Sound and Fury: Frustrated Phoenix Residents Are Roaring Ever Since the FAA Changed Sky Harbor Flight Paths

City management then asked legal counsel to question Aviation Department employees about their involvement, and the result was "new information suggesting earlier and/or more extensive involvement in the FAA's decision process to change the flight paths."

The noise problems associated with the new flight paths have been a major community grievance since they went into effect on September 18, 2014. Hundreds of homes in Laveen and the downtown Phoenix historic district have been affected, and citizens report that the conditions are "unlivable." (Citizens in Tempe, Mesa, and Glendale also report noise disruptions and have contacted Phoenix city officials about working together.)

Yesterday's revelation is important because it changes the narrative of events in an major way. There is a big difference between having knowledge of upcoming changes and being actively involved in the process.

"While Aviation staff previously stated that an employee had some interactions with the FAA regarding development of the flight paths, it now appears that this employee may have been more involved than originally understood," says the memo.

According to the City Manager's office, the investigation will examine the chain of command from the "low level employee" in question up to the top of the department in an attempt to figure out who knew what -- and who -- dropped the ball in relaying important information.

Ostreicher also told New Times that "this investigation doesn't change the work that's being done on behalf of the community to correct the [flight-path] issue." Last month, city officials filed a legal protest with the FAA, and have not ruled out further legal action, such as taking the FAA to court.

Speculation about the identity of the employee is making its way around social media, but at this time, New Times cannot confirm any rumors. We will, however, keep you updated as new information surfaces.

Got a tip? Send it to: Miriam Wasser.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Miriam Wasser at @MiriamWasser.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser